The Time to Act Is Now: Declare Burma's Actions a Genocide


On Jan 28, the United States lowered the boom on Venezuela. Not only did the Trump administration announce sweeping sanctions against sitting President Nicolás Maduro, but it took an action almost never used in statecraft — it unilaterally recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s new head of state. Maduro’s crime? Corruption — namely looting the assets (petroleum) of the Venezuelan people, causing distress, which led to unemployment and dire economic conditions for many of Venezuela’s citizens.

The U.S. brought the full weight of diplomatic tools at its disposal to bear upon the Maduro regime. It was a bold call. And it was the right call.

As the U.S. stands up to thugs near our shores, notice the disparity in how we treat Venezuela’s leaders and how we treat Burma’s leaders.

The difference is breathtaking. It is stunning.

Venezuela’s leader skimmed oil profits. But Burma’s leaders killed, murdered, burned and raped tens of thousands of its own people — the Rohingya who live in the Rakhine state on its Western coastline. Burma’s leadership were either complicit or have defended the genocidal atrocities of its military leaders. What occurred there are the worst atrocities imaginable; gang rapes of Rohingya women by entire squadrons of soldiers, the dismembering of babies, burning women and children alive. In some instances, the Burmese military was less overt but just as deadly; routinely denying food, medical care or humanitarian aid to entire Rohingya villages — resulting in the starvation of entire villages.

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One brutal campaign in the fall of 2017 saw 680,000 Rohingya Muslims either slaughtered or driven from their ancestral homeland. Today 1.1 million of those Rohingya survivors sit in makeshift tents just across the border in Bangladesh in what has become the largest refugee camp the world has ever seen. It is arguably the worst human rights disaster in the world today. Scores of human rights experts all over the world, including Fortify Rights and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, are calling this genocide, and human rights groups are asking for the prosecution of Burmese leaders at the International Criminal Court.

What has happened in Burma is the height of injustice, and it is rightly bringing international condemnation upon Burma’s evil regime. The U.N. issued a scathing report documenting severe atrocities and asserting Burma’s genocidal intent. Taking its cue from the U.N., Canada’s House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution condemning Burma’s actions as genocide and revoked the honorary citizenship of Burma’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The U.S. State Department issued a similar report indicating genocidal intent, which, one some believed, would lay the groundwork for the what is considered the strongest response the U.S. could take: A declaration of genocide by the U.S. Secretary of State.

But the secretary of state has been slow to respond. Sensing hesitation on the part of the Trump administration, the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall of 2018 passed a nearly unanimous resolution declaring Burma’s actions to be genocide. Ambassador Nikki Haley denounced Burma’s government before the UN security council. The stage was set for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make the genocide declaration.

Still, Pompeo has not responded. Neither has President Trump.

Human rights observers around the world are asking, “Why? Where is the Trump administration on this issue?

Most Americans have never heard of word Rohingya. This is particularly sobering, since, according to some human rights observers, the U.S. actually bears some responsibility for these atrocities. Why? Because for all their hatred of the Rohingya, the Burmese military had, up until the fall of 2016, been kept under control. Multiple U.S. economic sanctions kept Burmese generals (who control Burma’s Jade industry) in check.

But former President Barak Obama lifted these sanctions against Burma only a month before leaving office. His stated goal was to encourage Burma toward democracy. Tragically, it had the reverse effect. Instead of urging Burma toward reform, it removed the stick that kept Burma’s military at bay. Seeing an opening, the Burmese military then launched its genocidal campaign. Sadly, Obama (despite the advice of his advisors) gave away America’s leverage upon the Burmese government.

Which brings us to today. What will America do? What will Pompeo do? What will Trump do?

Trump should immediately reinstate the six sanctions that Obama lifted. Some of these are not a hard call. Specifically, he should:

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1. Restore the ban on using child soldiers. (Who needs child soldiers? Excuse me, President Obama, why again did you lift this ban?)

2. Reinstate the ban on Genocide Gems, Burmese jade and rubies (the Burmese military effectively runs the Burmese Jade industry).

3. Freeze the assets of key Burmese nationals connected to the atrocities.

4. Cancel Obama’s rewarding of Burma with GSP, which allows duty-free imports (given only to America’s staunchest allies).

5. Re-instate prohibition on multilateral assistance to Burma.

6. Reinstate the ban on bilateral assistance to Burma.

The time to act is now. Secretary Pompeo, it’s far past time to call this atrocity what it is: genocide. Make the declaration.

Mr. President, please act upon that declaration by reversing Obama’s disastrous lifting of the six sanctions. Choke off the economic lifeblood that fuels this corrupt regime. And use the full force of the U.S. government to go after the Burmese military leaders as war criminals. Demand that Burma restore full citizenship rights to the Rohingya.

Sanctions against Venezuela for skimming oil profits? Fine.

What penalty will Burma pay for genocide against its own people?

Terry Allen is a political consultant and author of the book, “Wisdom: Life Lessons from the World’s Wisest (and Richest) Man.”

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